Disclaimer: I don't own the Anime/Manga Naruto, I'm just playing with it a bit, and I'm not making any money off it so please don't sue!

Notes: AU, pre-Naruto (Minato is a genin), one-shot. This bit was kind of, sort of inspired by the ending teaser of Naruto 499, but isn't really spoiler-y…at least I don't think so.

Anyways, read, review, and enjoy!


Fox Girl

"You need to keep that thing on a leash!"

"Sorry!" Minato said with a cringe at Tsume's fiery glare.

"You should be!" the Inuzuka girl barked as she cradled her whimpering puppy, Kuromaru. Then she turned her glare at a red furball twined around Minato's feet. "Why did you ever think you could make a ninken out of that?"

That happened to be a red fox.

Minato had found her about a year ago, being chased and chewed on by feral dogs just outside of the village. She'd been so small and frightened that he'd taken pity on the baby fox and rescued her from the dog pack. From there he'd intended to nurse her back to health and then let her go back into the wild.

At first, this endeavor hadn't gone well for him. The baby fox, which he'd named Kushina after a foreign princess in one of his favorite childhood fairy tales, had hated him. She'd bite him, snarl at him, destroy his things, leave messes everywhere, and she kept trying to run away even though she'd still had stitches and bandages all over. It had been a nightmare, but he'd been determined to see it through. Once she was healed, he could let her go and forget all about the wicked little fox.

But after a particularly messy recovery of the runaway fox, she seemed to calm down. At the very least, she stopped the biting and the destroying. Then, when it was finally time to set her free and be rid of her…she came back. And she still showed no signs of leaving him alone.

Recently he'd come up with the idea of training her to be a ninken—a ninja animal. She always followed him to practices with his team and seemed interested in the things that they did. And it would be a good way for her to earn her keep. Being only a genin, he didn't make a lot of money and pet food wasn't quite cheap enough.

Seeking advice on someone experienced with training ninken, he'd begged a favor of Inuzuka Tsume. All Inuzuka had specially bred dogs as ninken partners and since dogs and foxes were similar she should be able to give him some pointers. He didn't expect her to share her clan's secret techniques and only after he'd promised not to try and steal any secrets several times had she agreed…

However, before they'd even gotten a chance to get started Kushina had picked a vicious fight with Kuromaru and things had gone downhill from there.

"Get that thing some obedience training!" Tsume growled. "And find someone else to help you."

And then she stalked off with her black and gray puppy tucked securely in her arms.

"Great," Minato sighed and slumped. He glanced down at the red fox sitting at his feet. "Why'd you have to do that, huh?"

The vixen just rubbed her furry body against his legs like a cat.

"Stop getting your fur all over my pants," Minato complained and skulked back towards his small apartment.

Kushina trotted after him. She followed him all the time, nearly everywhere he went. Sometimes she was helpful, and sometimes she wasn't. And whenever he went to the grocery store he had to lock her up otherwise she'd follow him and steal produce from the fruit displays.

"You know, I'll be lucky if Tsume ever talks to me again after that," Minato told her. "Kuromaru really didn't deserve to be chewed on like that. What if he loses that ear?"

The little fox just sneezed in response, totally unconcerned with what she'd done.

Minato shook his head and kept walking. He headed away from the training fields and through the village streets towards home. As he neared the heart of Konoha, he spied Hokage Tower, the tallest and largest building next to the stadium in the entire village. It housed offices for the administrative ninja that sorted through potential missions, after-mission reports, and various other bits of intelligence. And at the top of the Tower was the Hokage, the strongest ninja in the village and the leader of them all.

One day that'll be me.

That was his goal. One day Minato would be strong enough and great enough to protect and lead the whole village. He was an illegitimate child of a civilian family and everyone laughed when he told them what he planned on doing, but that only made him more determined to do it. Minato would prove his worth to them all and one day be acknowledged as Hokage.

One day… He tore his eyes away from the tower and kept walking. I have a lot of hard work to do to get there. But I'll do it.

He was two turns away from making it home when he saw her.

Yukihana Sasami was the daughter of the wealthiest merchant in the village and incredibly beautiful. She had flawless fair skin, warm brown eyes, and black silk hair that was long and flowing. She was walking with her beautiful mother to the shopping district dressed in a subtly beautiful red and gold kimono.

Minato stopped in his tracks as he watched her glide along the sidewalk across the street from him like some kind fairy spirit. He knew he never had much of a chance with her. He had no money, no good breeding, she probably had no idea who he was and her family would turn their noses up at him. Even if he managed his goal of becoming Hokage his chance of winning her affections was small. But it was nice to dream, and a lot safer than Jiraiya-sensei's dream of winning Tsunade's affections.

And then his admiring gaze was rudely interrupted by Kushina tugging on the cuff of his pant leg with her teeth.

"Hey!" he hissed and kicked out his leg to shake the fox loose. "Knock it off!"

She barked at him, as if scolding him.

"What?" he huffed. "I was just looking. A guy can dream, can't he?"

Kushina just glared up at him with her dark blue-gray fox eyes.

Minato looked away from her and turned to see that Sasami and her mother had turned a corner and where gone on another street.

"Why are you being such a pain today?" he asked with a sigh as he resumed his walk home. "First you pick on Kuromaru and then you chew on my pants."

At least there was no more trouble from her from that point until they returned to his apartment. His mother strongly disapproved of his choice of career so with some help from his sensei he was renting a very cheap one-room apartment. With only a fox as a housemate it suited his needs perfectly.

Minato put away his ninja tools—his kunai, his shuriken, his explosive tags, and his hitai-ate—and went to his small refrigerator. He was pretty well stocked with the necessary items, but his milk carton was dangerously close to its expiration date. It was just the excuse he needed to go to the shopping district to see if he could catch another glimpse of Sasami without a pesky fox to interrupt him.

"Kushina, I'm out of milk so I'm going to the grocery store." He gave the fox reclining on the pile of pillows he used in place of a real couch and gave her a warning look. "Since you can't stop stealing peaches and costing me ryo I don't have, you'll be staying here. So behave yourself!"

The blond boy hurried out of his apartment and locked the door behind him just to make sure that his fox stayed out of mischief. Then he hurried off to the market to buy more milk. And catch another glimpse or two of Sasami, if he could.

You're not buying milk, Kushina thought sourly as the door closed and locked. You're off to watch that over-bred girl! I'm not stupid, you know…

The fox snorted and crawled out of the pile of cushions to pace around the boundaries of the small, one-room apartment. She was very much peeved at being ditched, but there were advantages. Now that she was alone, she could practice.

Not too long ago she'd been determined to despise all of humanity. Humans had destroyed her old home and killed most of her family and separated her from the rest. Humans had bred and then abandoned the dogs that had tried to kill and eat her. They were cruel creatures with strange ways and she'd fully intended to hate them forever.

But then she'd met Minato. He'd saved her from the blood-thirsty dogs and tended her wounds. He withstood all of her abuse and even though it felt like he'd been keeping her prisoner he'd promised to let her go when she was healed. And he had. He'd kept his promise. He had a wonderful smile and a nice voice and a nice smell and gentle hands.

So when he'd set her outside the walls of his village and declared her fit and free to go, she'd followed him right back inside. He was wonderful and fascinating and he took such good care of her. Being with him was so much better than struggling to survive on her own.

Kushina (she'd had another name once but that had been a while ago and she had since forgotten it) padded over to the small cracked mirror that sat on top of his storage chest and stared at her foxy reflection. She looked like a perfectly ordinary red fox, but she wasn't. He would see that soon enough.

Snorting at her fox face, she concentrated on changing it.

It was a trick that she'd totally discovered by accident. The first time that Minato had locked her in his apartment because he was tired of her taking peaches at the grocery store (if the store humans didn't want their fruit taken, why leave it out in easy reach?) and she'd needed to get out and take care of some business. Without hands, escape was impossible and it had seemed likely that Minato would come back to a smelly wet spot on his carpet. But with some desperate wishing, she'd suddenly found her paws to be a bit more like hands—just enough that she could twist the lock, twist the knob, and escape.

Intrigued by this ability, she would slip out at night while Minato slept to see how far she could push it. Within a few weeks, she had achieved a rough human form. To refine it, she tailed Minato's sensei to hot springs and swimming holes to study the human female body. And recently she had been practicing human speech, which was a lot harder than she thought it would be (apparently it was one thing to understand it and quite another to successfully speak it).

When her transformation was complete, she picked up the mirror with very human fingers and used it to critically examine every feature.

Let's see…feet look good, ears look good, teeth look good, nose looks good, tail is gone… She made a face at that, and amused herself by observing it in the mirror. Why don't humans have tails? It's so hard to balance without them.

Satisfied that she had all the major parts right, she put the mirror down to fidget with her long red hair. At first she'd gone with short hair like Minato's but when she caught on to his fascination with Sasami and her long black hair she'd made some adjustments. As much as she despised the girl who stole Minato's attention away from her (where it belonged), Sasami did prove useful in showing Kushina ways to tailor her human shape to his interests.

"Minato is silly," she told her reflection, careful to form the words right. "She doesn't pay attention to him. She won't pay attention to him. He even says so. So why does he bother? I'll pay attention to him all he wants, dattebane!"

She was quite well aware that "dattebane" wasn't really a word. She'd spit it out on accident while practicing human talk once and taking a liking to the way it sounded. Sometimes she'd tack it onto the ends of sentences as a sort of emphasis, or to make what she'd said sound more interesting, or just because.

"Minato is silly," she repeated. "When I surprise him with this, he'll see how silly he's been, dattebane!" She rubbed a hand over her bare human arm. "But…I suppose I should find clothes soon."

It was another human quirk that she couldn't quite understand. Because they were furless, she could understand wearing clothing when it was cold. But when it was more than warm enough for them to run around without clothes on, they would stay dressed even when it made them sweaty and miserable.

"I still have some time, though," Kushina said to the mirror. "It's autumn now, and his birthday is in the winter. That's three moons at least to find clothes to wear."

That was her master plan—to reveal her human shape on his birthday as a present. By then she would have perfected her appearance, her walk, her talk, and found clothes so as to be perfectly presentable. She would be far more useful to him as a human girl than as a fox that he couldn't understand, and he would be very pleased.

…He had better be pleased.

She had put a lot of effort into working on this. And there were still things that needed work. Like clothes…

"Maybe I can takes things from wash lines," she mused as she left the mirror to practice her balance as she walked upright. "Foxes are small and sneaky. No one will see… But how will I know if they fit? Hmm…"

While she teased this problem out, she glanced at the clock. She couldn't properly read it but she could rudely gauge the passage of time by it. Minato would be drooling over nothing for a while longer; she had time to practice a while longer.

"It's nice to have a mirror," she mused. "Maybe I should borrow it for tonight's practice. It's so much better than looking in dark ponds…"

She tried out stretches that she'd seen the kunoichi on Minato's team do during practice. She tried doing handstands. She found a pad of paper and a pen and played with it. And then she settled down in front of the mirror again and amused herself with all the faces she could make as a human.

"I'm halfway there, I think," she said to the mirror. "I will definitely be ready by his birthday. And then I can help him with his dream."

Not his dream of getting that girl; Kushina was thoroughly against that dream.

She would help him become Hokage. She would steal scrolls and secrets for him, because he always complained that all the good stuff was in the restricted section of Konoha's ninja library. She would train with him, because he always wanted to keep going when the rest of his team wanted to quit. She would help him get smart and get strong and then he would achieve his goal.

And then Minato would be happy and everyone would see what she knew: how wonderful he was.

That's weird… Kushina frowned at her reflection when she noticed that her cheeks had changed color slightly. I didn't mean for them to get pink like that.

Then the lock in the door clicked.

Kushina stared at the door, then the wall clock, and then back at the door in a panic. He hadn't been gone nearly as long as he should've been. It took several minutes to reverse the change and get back to being a little fox. Her birthday surprise for him would be ruined!

"Tadaima," Minato muttered as he trudged in through the door with a carton of milk in a small plastic bag. "Kushina, I'm ba—"

The boy caught sight of her, froze, dropped his milk, and jumped back, banging his back into the wall.

"Who are…? How did you…?"

Kushina cringed and reluctantly turned to fully face him so that she could explain—

His blue eyes got very wide as they looked her up and down and up and down. His face got very red and a little trickle of blood dripped from his nose. And then his eyes rolled back into his head and he slumped down the wall with a choked squeak.


When he failed to respond, she crept up to him and shook him by the shoulders a bit.

His only response was for his head to flop bonelessly on his neck.

Did I…break him?

She almost panicked at that thought, and then another thing occurred to her.

…Maybe clothes are more important than I thought.